Most of us are aware that our plastic use has a huge impact on the environment, but other than trying to choose lesser-evil products with less packaging at the supermarket, there is little we can do except feel guilty. A group of designers from Japan called AMAM (Kosuke Araki, Noriaki Maetani and Akira Muraoka), however, envision a future where the use of plastic packaging can co-exist with healthy oceans and less trash in landfills, and have developed Agar Plastic, a product derived from seaweed agar that can replace plastic film and foam packaging.
The Agar Plastic is created by boiling one of two species of red algae (one of which is already widely cultivated in Chile, Egypt and Asia) and dehydrating the resulting soupy substance. Melted agar is already used in food as a gelling and thickening agent, but AMAM is rapidly discovering new ways the substance reacts to various physical pressures: for example, it takes on a soft, cushion-like structure when frozen and becomes a plastic-like film when compressed. When thawed and air-dried, the agar maintains this quality even when it's no longer kept freezing.
The place in its life cycle where Agar Plastic has already proven its superiority is in disposability: since agar absorbs water, it can be mixed with soil in a garden to improve the water retention of plants, and it does not harm ocean life because of its marine origins. Because of its feathery structure, the agar would also be lightweight and easy to transport.
Agar Plasticity has already captured the imagination of Lexus, which has bestowed it with the 2016 Design Award, but more research is required to make it truly competitive with fossil fuel-based plastics. AMAM is looking for collaborators and researchers to help further its research into this natural miracle material. Their work, along with the other 12 Lexus Design Award finalists, was on view in Milan in the Spazio Lexus until April 17.